No More “Pink Slime” at Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King

fast food pink slime ammonia beef factory farm photo

theimpulsivebuy / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s been a rough year for ammoniated beef. It’s a fancy name for a scary practice cooked up by Beef Products Inc, a company that saw sales plummet by 25 percent this year due to the general public responding to questionable meat processing practices. And most recently, the decision by Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King to stop the use of the industry named "pink slime."

Food Safety News reported on the process:

Beef Products Inc. uses an innovative process to turn fatty beef trimmings, which used to go mainly into pet food and other byproducts, into hamburger filler. Because the trimmings are at risk for E. coli or Salmonella contamination, the company adds a mixture of ammonia and water (ammonium hydroxide) to kill bacteria.

"Pink Slime" at the USDA

It’s been called “pink slime" by none other than the USDA. The New York Times reports that a "[USDA] microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, called the processed beef "pink slime" in a 2002 e-mail message to colleagues and said, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”

More and more people learned about the process from the popular movie Food, Inc. And then there was its appearance on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. “[Oliver] called the "clever scientific process" shocking and a breach of consumer trust.” Especially considering that according to The New York Times, the federal school lunch program used 5.5 million pounds of ammoniated beef in 2008.

Big Three Pull Ammoniated Beef

Apparently all the bad press eventually took its toll and at the end of 2011 three mega-chains: Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King all announced that they would be discontinuing the use of the product.

Both McDonald's and Burger King claim that the move isn't in reaction to all the bad publicity and Taco Bell gave no comment on the matter. But whatever the reason, it comes not a moment too soon.

Ammoniated Beef Processing Ineffective

Ammoniated meat became the dirty little secret of the meat industry because it was excluded from recalls and random testing because the ammonia treatment was supposed to make contamination much less likely. The only problem was it didn't work.

The New York Times reports of specific problems with the beef in lunchrooms:

[G]overnment and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.

Even worse, ammonia isn't listed on any ingredient labels because it's considered a "processing agent" even though it's completely misleading to think that it doesn't end up in the final product.

This is proof positive that the American public does care about what they're putting into their bodies especially when the facts come to light. And it goes to show that truth in labeling could mean the end to other questionable practices like genetically modified ingredients and meat glue, for example.